I am often asked whether I miss being an member of parliament. The answer is no, except when issues of defence and foreign policy are being debated, when I often end up shouting at the radio, and sometimes on it.
Any minister or shadow minister will tell you that one of the most important parts of their brief is to build a relationship with whatever sector they are covering. As a shadow defence minister for four and a half years I thoroughly enjoyed working with all parts of the defence sector, the service charities, the armed forces and their families, and the workforce, trade unions and defence companies supporting the frontline and keeping us safe.
There is no doubt it is one of the more challenging policy areas for us to have a presence in, particularly when in opposition. However, I like to think that under both Jim Murphy and Vernon Coaker, the defence team of 2010-2015 did a good job making Labour credible and heard on defence. That has made watching the last 12 months really, really painful, as Labour has cycled through shadow defence secretaries, one after another, trashing the constructive work we did, holding a sham of a consultation on Trident, and even weakening the conference speech of the then shadow defence minister without telling him.
So it was with some apprehension I heard of the appointment of our fourth shadow cabinet minister in the job. However Nia Griffith, has, in one of her first interviews in the post, signalled a sensible, pragmatic approach which is to be welcomed.
Speaking to the British Forces Broadcasting Service she has reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to renewing Trident, and push for more action on multilateral disarmament. This is the right approach for three reasons.
First, it is the right policy in and of itself. The world is arguably less safe and less predictable than it has been for some time. This decision affects our capabilities for decades. Opting to get rid of the deterrent now would be foolish and irresponsible in the extreme. It would make Britain less safe.
Second, this is our democratically agreed policy. As Griffith said, the decision was in fact taken in 2007, but because we knew there would be a vote in this parliament we went into the 2015 election with an agreed, settled position to maintain a nuclear deterrent delivered by continuous at-sea deterrent in our manifesto, on which all current Labour MPs were elected. This decision was taken following debate, discussion and votes through various bits of our policy making process. We even invited Jeremy Corbyn along to a policy commission meeting to make sure the case against had been fully considered. And the position was reaffirmed at conference 2015.
Third, parliament has decided to renew Trident. It is happening. It would be foolish in the extreme to continue to tear the Labour party apart over something that is now agreed, particularly when polling and surveys show time and again that the public support it.
So for all these reasons I am very glad that our new shadow defence secretary has affirmed Labour’s position for Trident renewal. This clear and pragmatic approach is a good sign from an experienced parliamentarian for the job ahead. Griffith has my full support in trying to put the previous shambolic 12 months behind us, as Labour seeks, not for the first time in our history, to rebuild credibility on defence matters.
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